The 2010–11 Vancouver Canucks did something no other Canadian NHL team in recent memory can match — get within a hair’s breadth of the Stanley Cup.
In Part I of this story, we went back to the beginning to see what made them tick. Now, we get to the fateful season itself.
After a 2–3–2 start to the season, the Canucks won six in a row and steamrolled through the NHL. They won the franchise’s first-ever Presidents’ Trophy, surpassed 50 wins for the first time, became the first team since the 1978 Montreal Canadiens to lead the NHL in both goals for and goals against, and had the No. 1 power play and No. 2 penalty kill.
Ryan Kesler won the Selke Trophy. Daniel Sedin won the Ted Lindsay and was runner-up for the Hart. Other award finalists included Roberto Luongo for the Vezina and Alain Vigneault as coach of the year.
Vancouver didn’t have a top Norris Trophy candidate, but were very deep on the back end. Jannik Hansen, Manny Malhotra and Raffi Torres formed an excellent third line. And despite a tricky cap situation, the team managed to add talent before and during the season — they signed Malhotra and Dan Hamhuis on the first day of free agency, and brought in Chris Higgins and Maxim Lapierre at the trade deadline.
Both Daniel and Henrik Sedin said they were struck by the quality of players in depth roles, guys who would have been higher in most other lineups.
CORY SCHNEIDER (G, 2008–2013) Everyone knew their role. Left dot, defensive-circle faceoff: Manny came out, took it and won it. Right dot: Kesler took it and won it. Offensive zone: The twins took it. If we were up 2–1 with 10 minutes left, we knew we were going to win. Everyone did exactly what they had to do and knew the right way to play.
NEWELL BROWN (Assistant coach, 2010–2013, 2017–present) We had a lot of guys that were experts at what they did as players. At the beginning of the season, a speaker came in, his name was Ed Viesturs — he was a mountain climber. He had a book titled No Shortcuts to the Top. That’s pretty much what our team epitomized. We didn’t take any shortcuts all year.
LAURENCE GILMAN (VP of hockey operations, assistant GM, 2008–2015) You could see we came in with swagger and confidence, greater than the prior seasons. It was like everybody knew this was our year.
BROWN I remember the feeling in Anaheim when we won [in 2007]. It was Cup or nothing. That was the vibe we had here.
GILMAN We played in Detroit [on Dec. 22]. We were leading going into the third period and lost. The bus ride from Joe Louis Arena to the airport is long. You could feel the rage on that bus. Not one person spoke for 40 minutes. Not a coach, not a trainer, not a player, nothing. Everybody on that bus was pissed off. Our group knew if we’re going to win it, we can’t lose games like this. Everybody was just sitting there like, “This is not acceptable.”
The Canucks won eight in a row after that.
ERIC CRAWFORD (Video coach, AHL assistant coach and executive, 1999–2015) I lived for a few years in Windsor, Ont. I saw how Detroit would win games, play cat and mouse with teams. “Okay, this is how good teams do it.” And then you start to see, “Hey, we’re that team. Now we’re playing cat and mouse. We’re going to score two here, and it’s over. Louie’s gonna close it down. We’re going to win.”
ALEX BURROWS (RW, 2005–2017) We didn’t cheat the game.
MASON RAYMOND (LW, 2007–2013) Some people said, “You guys were cocky.” Maybe. We were super confident in ourselves.
RYAN KESLER (C, 2003–2014) It was my most fun year in hockey. Looking back on it, I wish I would have lived in the moment a little bit more. We knew if we just threw our skates on the ice, we would win. That’s how confident we were.
DAN HAMHUIS (D, 2010–2016) Now 10 years later, you look back and you think, “Wow, I’ve played pro 18 years. That team definitely sticks out.”
RAFFI TORRES (LW, 2010–2011) It was just a good, good, good group. Tight knit. You want to play for guys like that.
JEFF TAMBELLINI (LW, 2010–2011) It was the first team I was on where it was a different dinner table every night. Everybody found a way to hang with each other.
KEITH BALLARD (D, 2010–2013) Once Sami Salo came back from injury, the three of us [Ballard, Andrew Alberts and Aaron Rome] were playing for one spot. We cheered for each other and hoped each other did well. In my experiences over 11 years of pro hockey, that’s not common.
MIKE GILLIS (GM, 2008–2014) We didn’t have any bad people. We didn’t have to manage people on a daily basis that were not willing to be part of it. And if we ever felt that way, those players were gone and our guys knew that they would be gone. We met with our leadership group and we would say to them, “Is there anything we can do better? You guys tell us.” They were very open about players they didn’t think were fitting in. It takes a lot of balls to do that. I’m proud they felt that confidence in us to be able to say those things.
TAMBELLINI Nobody was afraid to say something hard to each other in the room. It was such a powerful room because guys could be honest with each other.
A driving force behind that culture of honesty was Manny Malhotra, who signed with Vancouver on July 1, 2010 — the same day as Hamhuis.
HAMHUIS Yes, it was the Sedins’ team, but the guy who controlled the dressing room in a very professional way was Manny Malhotra. He was the guy that held everyone accountable — by example and by voice. Manny was the guy that said the right things between periods and before games. Every time. He’d be the guy drawing systems on the board, running practices in the summer, before training camp…. He always asked this question between periods, which I thought was really cool and I kind of took from him. He would look over at the D and say, “Hey, D, what do you guys need from us? What do you need from the forwards?” And we’d be like, “Oh, well, you know, it’d be great if you guys could come back a little lower in our end and maybe backtrack a bit more. It seems like their rush is really good tonight.” “Okay, perfect,” he’d say. “We’ll do that.” Just putting himself out there saying, “Hey, how can I be better for you right now? How can all the forwards be better for the D?” And then of course it follows that we’d ask, “Well, what can we do better?” That’s the culture Manny created.
BALLARD He understood the game so well the coaching staff wouldn’t come in a lot in between periods.
HAMHUIS He always had us believing that if we just play the right way, if we continue to do the right things longer than the other team, they’re going to break. He’d say it might take 30 minutes, 40 minutes, 50 minutes, 60 minutes. But we don’t break away from our game. We make the other team break. It kept us from getting frustrated in games where we’d be outplaying a team but not scoring, and you just say, “They’re going to break, they’re going to break.” Sure enough, the other team takes a chance they shouldn’t, and we’re all in the right position. Boom. Turnover. Sedins go down to win it.
TAMBELLINI He had a certain way of saying, “Hey, Dan and Henrik, I know you guys want to make the play. Let’s just do this so that we can get into the zone. That gets you all the chances we want.” Those guys are so talented, but they also had no ego, and they’re like, “You’re right.” Then they go make two great plays in the third period, and we win again.
DANIEL SEDIN (LW, 2000–2018; future Hall of Famer) The ultimate leader.
HAMHUIS [Malhotra’s] just got incredible positive energy. No matter what business you’re in, you hire him. Even if he doesn’t know a single thing about what your business is, he’s a guy you hire because he brings great energy. He’s a happy guy, he’s a super people person, and he’ll make the business better without knowing anything about the business. He was truly … the difference maker of why that team was as good as it was.
ALAIN VIGNEAULT (Head coach, 2006–2013) I was on the conference call [when we were trying to sign him]. One of the questions he asked Mike and I was, “Can these players be told the truth?” And I said, “Yes, there’s no doubt. You’re going to be a great fit. We need somebody like you to help us take that next step.” For our group, Manny was the right person, the right type of leader, at the right time.
On March 16, 2011, the Canucks were trailing Colorado 2–0 early in the second period. A deflected puck hit Malhotra’s left eye. He was immediately taken to the hospital, where he underwent emergency surgery.
TC CARLING (VP, communications & community partnerships, 1999–2013; VP, hockey administration, 2014–2018) That was the Canucks for Kids Fund telethon, normally a great night of celebration.
TORRES My wife and I would go to his house, and we’d take our daughter. It was just so tragic to see that happen to him.
BALLARD It was one of the scariest things I’ve seen. His meeting with us was a tough moment for everybody because he meant so much to our team. He said he’s going to be out for awhile…. But you can see on someone’s face, you can see… “Hey, I broke my arm. I’m out four weeks.” It wasn’t anything like that. This was something different.
CARLING After the initial surgery, he needed to sit upright at home quite a bit. So we purchased this upright massage chair, like the kind of thing you would see in the airport. I delivered it to the house. I remember seeing [Malhotra’s wife] Joann that day. And it was just … you could tell what the last few weeks had been like.
VIGNEAULT Manny’s injury was devastating. In the playoffs, we were able to win three rounds without him, but we made sure he was around every day — still in that room every day. He would talk to the guys. Even though he wasn’t on the ice, he still had a big, big influence.
Initially, it was reported Malhotra would be out for the year. He returned for Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final. His vision was limited, and he was not the same player. But they were thrilled to have him, whatever the case.
TAMBELLINI We could not believe he was coming back. And the day I figured out what he was doing … it was in between San Jose and Boston. I was out there on the ice by myself, and then Manny jumped on the ice. I’m watching him, he’s skating and I can see he was trying things with his vision. “Wow, excellent.” We’re on the ice probably for 25, 30 minutes, and I’m watching him like, “Well, he’s closer than it looks.” And then before you know it, he’s got gear on and I’m going, “Wow. There’s no way he’s going to do that if he’s not gonna play.” And the momentum comes and, “Hey, he’s coming back.” That was so good for our group. And you know, I remember going out in that first shift and the whole building was crazy. We couldn’t hear ourselves. I remember watching the puck drop and going, “Wow, he’s actually going to do this.” And he was unbelievable for playing with the amount of vision he had. I still can’t believe it.
GILLIS I’m still convinced that if Manny didn’t get injured, we would’ve won the Stanley Cup.
The Blackhawks suffered a true Stanley Cup hangover. A home loss to Detroit on the final day of the regular season gave Dallas a chance to eliminate them. The Stars stunningly lost 5–3 at Minnesota, a team that finished 11 points out of the playoffs. Chicago and Vancouver, for the third year in a row.
GILLIS I thought, “Oh boy.”
SCHNEIDER That’s not a good reward for the Presidents’ Trophy team to get the Cup champs.
KEVIN BIEKSA (D, 2005–2015) At first we’re like, “Holy f—.” We just had a great year and now we’ve got to play the champions in the first round. So we kind of felt a little kick in the nuts there, but we still were pretty confident. I thought we really took it to them.
HAMHUIS It was good the Canucks had lost to them two years in a row or we’d have been in trouble right away.
TAMBELLINI “Wow, okay, we’re gonna have to do this the hard way. If we’re gonna win it with this group, we’re going to have to go through this team. So let’s get after it.”
Vancouver won the first two at home, then beat the Blackhawks 3–2 in their own building on a Mikael Samuelsson goal in the third period.
RICK BOWNESS (Assistant coach, 2006–2013) Even though we were up 3–0, we knew it wasn’t over.
After Game 3, Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews ranted, “We’re not exposing them for what they really are. A lot of people outside of this locker room are giving them too much credit and maybe we are as well. We know that we can be a better team than them.”
BIEKSA When I read what Toews said, I thought that was just outrageous. Does he really believe that, or is it just a media trick? We just outplayed them three games in a row and he’s spouting off saying they’re the better team. And sure enough, they dominated us for three games.
TORRES I know our asses were getting pretty tight as they came back.
The Blackhawks won Game 4, 7–2, and Game 5, 5–0 — in Vancouver. Schneider got his first career playoff start at the Madhouse on Madison in Game 6.
ROLLIE MELANSON (Goalie coach, 2010–2017) I didn’t want a “backup” goalie. I never liked that word. I wanted a tandem. I wanted to be able to put either one in there and the team would have to play the same way. You’re No. 1 when it’s your turn to go into the net. AV has always been a momentum type of coach. His winning percentage is almost .600. It was a decision to try to find a way to break Chicago’s momentum. Louie was fighting it a bit, especially in the fourth game. It was to let him get refocused, work on a couple of little things, take a breath, and if it went to Game 7, Louie was going to play.
It didn’t turn out the way we anticipated.
Michael Frolik tied the game for Chicago on a penalty shot with 17:29 remaining in regulation. As the building went bananas, Schneider exited for Luongo.
MELANSON We’re putting Cory in a moment he never experienced. As a young goaltender, you’re going to face things that are not like moments you’ve rehearsed through the course of the regular season. He wasn’t used to the reps and he’s burning more fuel. He’s a bit more nervous, he started cramping and we had to get him out of there.
ROBERTO LUONGO (G, 2006–2014; future Hall of Famer) At the start of the third, Schneids didn’t say anything to me as far as how he was feeling, like he was cramping up. In Chicago, there’s not a lot of room on the bench. So I was actually watching the game in the dressing room. When they got the penalty shot and scored, I was looking at it as like, “Why is he staying down?” I wasn’t understanding what was happening. Within 10 or 15 seconds, somebody from the bench runs in the locker room to tell me that he’s cramped up: “You have to go in.” And I was like, “Holy crap. What the hell is going on here?” So I put on my gear, and I swear to God, this is the honest truth: As soon as I walked through the tunnel, and people saw that I was coming out, I felt like a wrestler coming out to the ring. People were yelling, they’re chanting my name. It was absurd, it was so crazy. That moment I honestly felt like Stone Cold Steve Austin coming to the ring.… It was one of my favourite moments of my career.
Luongo stabilized the game, stopping the first 12 shots he faced. But in overtime, seconds after he’d made a great save on a deflection, Chicago’s Ben Smith sent it to Game 7. If there was a silver lining, it’s that Vancouver’s backbone looked refreshed.
Thinking back on the series’ deciding game, everyone interviewed for this piece said some version of, “We knew if we lost, everyone was getting fired and the core would be broken up.” This was not a situation for the faint-hearted.
HENRIK SEDIN (C, 2000–2018; future Hall of Famer) After Game 6, maybe a little bit of panic.
CHRISTIAN EHRHOFF (D, 2009–2011) If you’re up 3–0 and lose, that’s the worst thing that can happen to you in hockey. And in a Canadian market.
RAYMOND That was one of the highest-pressured situations I’d felt. Mike Keane, who won three Stanley Cups, always said, “I only made a career because of playoffs.” I vividly remember that.
HENRIK When we got back home, we regrouped real well. We had a meeting with AV where he had spoken to Marc Crawford [about] when they won it in Colorado [in 1996]. He told AV every team that wins it is going to have to overcome something really tough.
KESLER I guess I was just naive and confident. Going with Burr to the rink, we’re like, “We’re going to get it done.” That’s it.
BIEKSA I prepared the exact same way. I pride myself at not wavering from my routine.
MELANSON Roberto was confident. “Let’s get back to what we do. Let’s get back to the top of the blue ice. Let’s just move our feet the right way.”
SCHNEIDER The amount of pressure on [Luongo] in that game. Imagine if we lost and Louie didn’t play well. That’s a legacy-defining game.
HAMHUIS Every inch on that ice mattered. Everything mattered. I had friends telling me the next day they were sore from clenching on the couch for three straight hours.
BIEKSA You’re playing almost scared because you don’t want to lose. Well, maybe more hesitant than scared. When Kes and Burr connected for the first goal, that let us exhale.
Burrows’s goal made it 1–0 at 2:43 of the first. It was so tense, and the stress only increased when Burrows missed a penalty shot 21 seconds into the third that would have made it 2–0.
MIKE BURNSTEIN (Athletic trainer, 1994–2015) I had the fortune to be one of the trainers for Team Canada at the 2010 Olympics. In the gold medal game, I thought, “Let this be our time,” and the clock’s ticking and we know how the story goes. And I didn’t have that feeling ever again until that Chicago game. It’s an eerie feeling — you’re just praying you can pull this off.
CARLING I remember how stressful that day was.… There’s a point late in the broadcast where the announcer says, “This is the time that Manny Malhotra would normally take the faceoff.”
Burrows, playing like a man possessed, drew a penalty on Duncan Keith with 3:17 to go.
GILMAN Power play late in the game. All we need to do is close this out. It’s gonna be awesome.
BOWNESS Jonathan Toews gets the puck in the neutral zone and skates right by our bench. His eyes were lit up like I’ve never seen on a player. I said to myself, “We’re in trouble here.”
BROWN I remember Toews’s eyes, too. They were as big as saucers and he has the will of a giant. In his mind, he’s going to the net and he’s going to score. I’m like, “Oh, no.”
Two-on-four, Toews scored shorthanded with 1:56 to go.
KESLER I’m like, “You’ve gotta be kidding me.”
GILMAN My stomach sank like a stone. “What is going to happen here?”
BIEKSA So that was maybe another point where we’re like, “Holy shit, we’re never gonna beat these guys.” But we always had a saying, “Who wants to be the hero?” Guys are like, “I want to be the f—ing hero.”
RAYMOND I remember guys saying that.
KESLER l remember there was oranges in the room [at intermission]. That’s all. I was zoned in and wanted it so bad.
BOWNESS Alain and I were looking at each other saying, “Well, we gotta find a way. We better win this game.”
MELANSON I stayed away [from Luongo]. Because I trusted him.
Twenty-four seconds into overtime, Burrows took a penalty. There’s always someone open on the power play. That man was Patrick Sharp, off Luongo’s right shoulder. Toews made a cross-crease pass to the sniper.
HAMHUIS Yeah. That went right through my feet.
KESLER I thought it was a goal. I think I screamed on the bench, some profanity, because I knew who they were going to.
SCHNEIDER And that was one of their money plays, right? Take it down to Toews. He was so good at spinning or manipulating the defenders on the goal line. He would send that pass backdoor. We knew that was coming, if they can execute it. And Toews did a great job. But I think Roberto knew the threat wasn’t him, but the guy on the backdoor if the pass gets through.
LUONGO First of all, you know Chicago’s power play and Sharpie was always on that side for the one-timer…. As Toews passed, I tried to intercept it with my stick, but missed. It was a little too far from me. So in a situation like that, I always practise what François Allaire taught me as a kid. When you’re sliding, always slide to your posts. I didn’t want to slide towards the top of the crease. You always want to slide towards your post, and that was just instinct…. Technically I was in good position, and he shot where my body was. It wasn’t a perfect shot under the bar or anything like that, which could have been bad. But those are the things you practice every day.
MELANSON We had rules with our penalty killers. We divided the blue ice into two segments. The lower half of your crease belongs to the goalies. We look to poke check everything that goes through. And the defenceman tries to block the lane on the upper part of the blue ice. But once the pass goes, the push and everything, we’re still in the bottom of the ice. If it gets through, you almost have to roof it to score. But Louie’s stick was perfect. The push was perfect, and the way it played out, it looked like a game-saving save, which it was. But that’s something we rehearsed 500 to 600 times throughout the season.
SCHNEIDER Louie was prepared and executed perfectly. But to do it under those circumstances and make it look that easy was pretty incredible.
Minutes later, Hamhuis took a hit to make a play, sending the puck into the Chicago zone. Burrows knocked down a clearing attempt and buried a bouncing puck to, as every Canucks fan knows, “slay the dragon.”
DANIEL When Burrows scores, I felt like this has to be our year. We can’t go through anything rougher than this.
RAYMOND Sitting here talking to you about that, I literally have goosebumps on my neck.
BIEKSA I joke around with Burr, “Oh, you scored the second-biggest goal in franchise history,” alluding to mine [from later in the playoffs]. But that’s the biggest. That was the most elation and joy I ever had on the ice. You’re so happy, you just don’t know what to do. Everyone was jumping around and it’s just like a dog’s breakfast. When you come off the ice and all three owners are giving you big bearhugs with your equipment on, you knew how big it was.
VIGNEAULT This is the second time Burrows saved my job. If we lose that, the chances of me coaching again [in the NHL]…. It would have been a challenge.
GILLIS I was at the urinal, heard this enormous cheer and knew that we had scored. I walked back into our box and everyone was freaking out. And that was actually the calmest I had been for the last week.
GILMAN He saunters into the suite and goes, “I guess we won.”
GILLIS It was one of the best hockey series I’ve ever seen. I don’t think you can actually describe it until you go through it. And even then, I don’t think you can describe it adequately. I knew what we had, what I felt was a team that could compete for the Stanley Cup. I didn’t want to be in a position where we were forced to make changes I didn’t believe in and didn’t want to make.
CRAWFORD I was scouting, so I wasn’t there. I remember watching Game 7 in my house, in my basement because my wife couldn’t take watching the game with me. So I was banished to the basement. She’s in the bedroom three floors up. She’d turned off the game, had heard me swear when they scored to tie it, and was like, “Oh, Jesus, that’s not going well.” She heard me scream when Burrows scored and jumped out of bed. We had babies in the house at that time.
Everyone was thrilled for Burrows. The next day would be even better for him, as his daughter Victoria was born.
BURROWS It was the craziest game of my life. Biggest roller-coaster: scored a goal, missed a penalty shot, took a penalty in overtime, was responsible for the Toews tying goal and then scoring again. I could have been out of the league, then I was almost a god in Vancouver for a couple hours. It was crazy. Then with my daughter being born the next morning, trying to answer all the text messages and phone calls I got. I’m glad we won so I could have a smile for my daughter’s birth.
CARLING When you look big picture at Alex, it’s not surprising he scored the only two goals in that game. He had that “it,” you know — he was not afraid of the moment..
GILMAN Around the league, people hated Burrows, they didn’t think he was that good and they thought he scored 30 goals because, “Hey, playing with Henrik and Daniel, I could score 25 goals” or whatever. He was tenacious beyond belief and competed like a bastard. And our guys love Burr. There was no more appropriate player to get that goal.
That shred of doubt was gone. Canuck Nation believed.
BURNSTEIN I remember pulling up to a stoplight, people rolling down their windows, giving me the thumbs up. And I’m just the trainer.
With “The Curse of Chicago” finally beaten, the Canucks overflowed with confidence. Luongo says Nashville and San Jose were two of his favourite buildings to play in, evoking a calm from his team. What everyone remembers most about the Predators series: how good Kesler was in it. He had 11 points from Games 2 through 6.
BOWNESS He carried the team on his back, every shift. It was unreal watching him.
KESLER I [had been] struggling to score, really putting pressure on myself. I remember standing in the crease on a power play [during Game 3], and Ehrhoff goes around the net and passes to me. I just dunk it into an empty net. That’s what got me started. I was playing with so much confidence, almost to the point of arrogance, where I knew if I got a shot, it was going in. Our team fed off of that. My mindset was no one was going to stop me. It was the best hockey I played in my life. It’s hard to explain. I felt like I could skate for days. [Nashville coach] Barry Trotz had some really nice things to say to me in the [handshake] line.
BIEKSA He always jokes that he singlehandedly won the Nashville series. I remind him some other players pitched in.
The Canucks won the series in six, but two things that happened against Nashville turned out to be bad omens: Mikael Samuelsson suffered a season-ending injury in Game 3, and, up 3–1, the Canucks lost Game 5 at home by a goal. That forced one more long, cross-continental flight before they closed out the series in six.
TAMBELLINI We felt we played so well, but we were disappointed. And I guess I go back to the first round, we kept giving away games — too many.
GILLIS The travel was really, really challenging. We’ve just gone through a really difficult series with Chicago where we had border crossings and time-zone changes. Now we are going to Nashville, and, you know, really long flight.
BROWN Holy smokes, that ended up being a lot of hours on the plane. That might’ve been the hardest-grinding series before the finals. They tried to put you through the boards.
Next was the Western Conference Final against San Jose. Two years earlier, Joe Thornton had tried to jumpstart the Sharks by fighting Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf at the opening faceoff of a playoff game. As the puck dropped for Game 1 of this series, Jumbo Joe asked Kesler if he was up for a skirmish.
KESLER I looked at the bench and Vigneault told me no.
VIGNEAULT Obviously Joe wanted to go and Kes wanted to go, too, but I felt we needed to focus on playing the way we had all year. I did not want us to get away from playing the game that enabled us to get to where we were. I know that tore at him. Everybody’s seeing Thornton challenging him, but that’s focusing on playing the right way. That’s what we did. And we won that series in five games.
BIEKSA I was on the ice for that faceoff and I go, “What about me, Joe? What about me?” And he said something like, “You didn’t score a lot of goals.” And then I score four goals in five games against his team. It’s karma.
The bad blood boiled over in Game 2. Former Blackhawk Ben Eager, a familiar face to Canucks fans, took 20 minutes in penalties. He boarded Daniel Sedin, roughed Luongo after a late goal when the game was already decided and was ejected in the final seconds.
BIEKSA He was still caught up in the Chicago stories. He still thought it was Chicago-Vancouver. He had that hate for us like most of the guys in Chicago did, and couldn’t control it. And as much as we hated him in Chicago, we wanted to win the series more than that. Our power play was one of the best in the world that year. So if you’re taking stupid penalties and giving us opportunities, we’re going to bury you.
Vancouver’s man-advantage went nine for 24 in the series, a sizzling 37.5 per cent. With the Canucks up two games to one and Game 4 scoreless in the second period, San Jose took four straight minor penalties. One was for too many men, another was for a puck over the glass. The Canucks scored three times five-on-three. The Sedins combined for five assists, and Sami Salo had two goals and one assist.
KESLER Look how Danny and Henrik took over that series. They’re the reason we won.
BALLARD Sami came back [from injury] just before the playoffs…. He could easily have been our best defenceman had he played the full year. I never realized how good he was until I played with him.
MELANSON We knew we could expose them upstairs. In that five-on-three, we scored two goals top-shelf.
The Canucks’ traveling contingent enjoyed every second.
CARLING It was Victoria Day long weekend. Game 4 was an afternoon game. I remember pre-warmup, a noise coming from the arena bowl that was so loud back where I was standing by the skate sharpener, I had to go out and look. I could not believe how many Canucks fans were in the building. They were making so much noise that I could hear it 300 feet down the hallway.
Back at home, Kesler tied Game 5 with 14 seconds remaining in regulation. In double-overtime, Alex Edler kept the puck in the San Jose zone, and it hit a stanchion near the right point.
DARRYL WILLIAMS (Assistant coach, 2008–2013) Nobody knew where it was, except for Kevin and Patrick Marleau. He was trying to get back into the shooting lane. Beyond those two players, nobody had an idea.
Bieksa one-timed the puck from just inside the blue line, slipping it past Antti Niemi for the win.
BIEKSA What I remember is after celebrating, I was so tired and so dehydrated that my groin seized. I kind of pulled it, my legs were cramping…. It was maybe a half-step below Chicago in terms of how happy and elated we were, but still a pretty, pretty cool thing. I realized, this is one of those things that I’ll look back at and feel like this was one of the biggest moments of my career. For me, it was a dream come true.
CHRIS HIGGINS (LW, 2011–2016) If we [hadn’t won] Game 5, we would’ve been in a lot of trouble in that series because we were so broken down at that point.
KESLER In Game 5, chasing Dan Boyle in the neutral zone, I took a stride and I felt something pop, like my whole leg seized up, and I couldn’t move. Obviously you go back, the doctors shoot you up and you get back out there. I remember celebrating with Juice — being like, “Holy shit, we’re going to the finals. This is what I’ve dreamed of.” We had seven days off between, and I didn’t practice until the day before Game 1. I went out there and was like, “I’m not good.” Can’t skate, can’t explode, something is seriously wrong. Nothing showed up on the MRI, so whatever. I didn’t practise or take pre-game skate. It was just, you know, play the games.
For the third time in franchise history, Vancouver was in the Stanley Cup Final. For the first time, they’d be the favourite. In the nine years since this series, my appreciation for it has grown. It was fierce, intense and dramatic. Two excellent teams going all-out to win. It’s what elite competition should be.
It is still very hard for the Canucks to discuss. As I began this process, I asked very detailed questions about things that happened. The more interviews I did, though, the more I realized I had to dial back a bit.
Emotions and feelings are still very raw.
SCHNEIDER The vitriol. There was so much hate in that series. It was pretty amazing. For two teams that had almost no history. Six hours across the continent. How quickly we hated them and they hated us, their fans hated us and our fans hated them. It was one of the last series that I’ve seen actual hate. It reminded me of the old Red Wings-Avalanche series where the players legitimately didn’t like each other and the coaches didn’t like each other. Even the media, right away, hated us and were all over us about all the bad guys on our team and all the stuff we did. There were sound bites and quotes and bulletin-board material. It was a legit hate-on.… It was a crazy, crazy event. The Horton hit, the biting, it had a little bit of everything. I remember the whole thing not being very fun. You know what I mean? You’re in the Cup finals and yes, there’s pressure and expectations, but it should be the most fun you’ve ever had playing hockey or being a part of it. It was two weeks of stress, and I wasn’t even playing that much. It was great theatre, I think, for everybody else.
GILLIS For me and for most of our staff, it was the first time we’d been in that situation. I really think we handled some things poorly. We got sucked into some situations we should have resisted. It was quite clear how that series was going to be played and instead of focusing on how to win it, given that style of play, we got focused on trying to stop that style of play. And that was a mistake. We just didn’t approach those things correctly. Some of the things that happened in that series are difficult to describe even today. I should have been solving the problem instead of trying to fight the problem. And if I ever get the opportunity again, I know I would do some things differently.
The Canucks won Games 1 and 2 at home in dramatic fashion. After a tightly contested opener in which Burrows bit Patrice Bergeron’s finger during a scrum, Torres scored the only goal at 19:41 of the third. In Game 2, Burrows scored 11 seconds into overtime to put Vancouver up 2–0.
KESLER I’m like, “Shit, we might sweep these guys.”
CRAWFORD I remember winning Game 1. Our other scouts were there, spread out through the press box, giving each other high-fives. After Game 2, saying, “Holy shit, like, this might happen, you know?”
HAMHUIS We won the first series in seven, the next one in six, the third one in five…. We were feeling pretty hopeful. I packed my equipment just in case [there was a chance to skate with the Cup].
Hamhuis didn’t need his equipment to play because he’d been injured in Game 1. Trying to hip-check massive Milan Lucic, he crumpled to the ice and didn’t return. Initially, Vigneault said his valuable defenceman was day-to-day.
HAMHUIS It didn’t feel like much. But then it just didn’t feel right, I couldn’t come back. I still didn’t think much of it. Went for an MRI the next day, and the guy’s like, “Yeah, you tore your groin right off the bone. There is no chance you’re coming back.” So there were a few tears. That was tough to take.
BIEKSA That Hamhuis injury just killed us.
It was a massive loss, but it wouldn’t truly be felt for a few more days. For Game 3, the Bruins re-inserted Shawn Thornton. I was assigned to the Eastern Conference champion in those days (Scott Oake covered the Western champ) and Thornton was our warm-up bench interview. Before he came over, he skated across the red line, by Roberto Luongo and through the Canucks. A tone had been set.
GILMAN I am convinced that when they were flying back to Boston, they sat at the front of their plane, their coaches and their management, and they said, “We can’t skate with these guys. We can’t play their game. And the only way we’re gonna have a chance here is to play Bruins hockey.” They put in Thornton, they made the decision to go after us — after the twins, after Luongo, after everybody.
TAMBELLINI I’ve never seen anything change so drastically. We’re in a great spot and the amount of confidence we had going into Boston…. I don’t think we knew what we were walking into. Actually, we started Game 3 great. But I’ll never forget the sound of the hit.
In the summer of 2009, Aaron Rome was a five-year pro with 26 career NHL games in Anaheim and Columbus. A free agent, he was exploring European destinations. Driving from Brandon to Red Deer on Canada Day for his brother’s wedding, he got a surprise call from the Canucks — “totally unexpected,” he says now. Rome grew into a useful depth defenceman, playing the best hockey of his career during the 2011 playoffs when he moved up to play with Bieksa.
Five minutes into Game 3, Nathan Horton took a pass at centre ice and moved it to Lucic on the left wing. He didn’t look back to the middle, never saw Rome coming. It was a huge hit.
TAMBELLINI We’re all sitting on the bench waiting for the call. “Okay, what’s going to happen?”
AARON ROME (D, 2009–2012) I was getting an opportunity to play against some top players and feeling good about my game. I’m just trying to be no fun to play against. It was a split-second decision and I guess the rest is history.
Horton was hospitalized with a concussion after leaving the game on a stretcher, and would not play again in the Final. Rome was ejected.
LUONGO We killed the five-minute penalty. I made some saves and felt great. For some reason, once the first goal went in, things unraveled. I don’t know why, but [they] did.
Andrew Ference scored at 0:11 of the second period and the rout was on, an 8–1 final. With Hamhuis already out, the Canucks nervously awaited the NHL’s disciplinary action. The hotly debated issue: How late was the hit?
In the end, Rome was suspended for the rest of the series.
KESLER When the suspension came, he broke down and started crying…. It pisses me off to this day. It was a body check. It’s not like he crosschecked him in the head. And I thought it was clean.
GILLIS You never want to see another player get hurt, get a concussion or get a blow to the head. But it was, in all of our minds, a perfect NHL body check at the time. His shoulder was down. His arm down. No elbow. He hit a player who had just released the puck, who was in the area where you have to keep your head up in the NHL. I was asked by some of the league officials what I thought the extent the four games in the Stanley Cup Final would represent in the regular season. I said 16, and they said, “Yeah, you’re probably right.” So a 16-game suspension in the regular season for that body check? I don’t want to be accused of whining and complaining about what’s happened, but for our team, it was just a devastating time.
Rome’s career ended in 2015. He coached with the WHL Brandon Wheat Kings for one season, but stopped for the most important of reasons — to be a father. Once or twice, I reached out to him to discuss what happened. Several Canucks indicated they’d never seen anyone so devastated for a non-personal reason, that he later blamed himself for Vancouver losing the series. Only recently did Rome agree to talk, but it’s not something he wishes to discuss at great length.
ROME The toughest thing for me was not being able to help the guys the rest of the way…. It was tough for sure.
GILLIS He was crushed by it. Absolutely crushed…. This was his moment. This was what he worked his entire life for. That was removed. And, you know, it’s pretty difficult to reconcile.
RAYMOND Aaron’s a very good friend to this day. Our wives grew up together. Aaron does feel… I don’t know if ‘responsible’ is the word, but he feels guilt, I guess. Aaron did try to shoulder a lot of that blame. But why didn’t we respond as a team better? And I know, I know, within our room, nobody looked at Aaron — “You changed the series.” You talk to anyone, he’s as good a guy as it comes. So I can’t imagine being in his shoes, being suspended for the rest of this series and not be able to do anything about it. That’s heartbreaking, right? But in no way was that anything that made us lose the Cup — no chance.
BIEKSA This might not be a popular opinion, but if that happens in Vancouver, I don’t even think it’s a penalty…. It was scary, because Horton was seriously hurt and you never want to see anybody get hurt, but it was half a second late, maybe even less than that. I’ve never really talked to Aaron, but I probably should have that conversation. Nobody should be going on with their lives thinking they’re the reason we lost.
HAMHUIS He took way too much responsibility…. It’s too bad because he didn’t deserve that at all. We didn’t lose because of that.
Suddenly the Canucks were down both Hamhuis and Rome with Ehrhoff battling a shoulder injury.
HAMHUIS That’s what really changed things. Guys started to do too much to make up for missing players, and partners got mixed around a little bit.
Boston won Game 4 4–0 to even the series. There’s long been a rumour the Canucks considered starting Schneider over Luongo in Game 6, but someone suggested it was also weighed for Game 4 as well. Vigneault threw cold water on that.
VIGNEAULT We get blown out. I’m coming back with the guy that took us to the dance…. Honest to God, there’s not one time in that series I didn’t think about going with Roberto. He was the guy for me.
Maxim Lapierre scored the only goal at 4:35 of the third in a tense, terrific Game 5. Luongo made 31 saves with his brother Leo in the crowd nervously cheering him on. When he came out as the game’s first star, he slammed his stick at centre ice. I loved it. He didn’t.
LUONGO Everybody was kind of doubting me a little bit, right? So I did that out of frustration, which I’m disappointed that I did. I was talking before about the Sedins, how they always kept their emotions in check. I wish I did that because we still had another game to win. After that game, I was so fired up, I made the comment about the goal Tim Thomas allowed — that would have been an easy save for me. [Luongo compared their playing styles, saying he would have been in better position to make the stop.] Those are the things where I wish I would not have worried so much about what’s going on on the outside.
GILMAN People forget, we won two games by shutout and one game 3–2. If Roberto Luongo wins Game 7, he wins the Conn Smythe. He didn’t play great in Boston, but that’s not all on him because we did some things we would do differently that impacted our ability to win.
DANIEL He was the backbone of our team. He took us that far.
For the second time in franchise history, the Vancouver Canucks were one win from the Stanley Cup. For the first time, they had two chances at it. A story broke about the parade route. Focus was shattered.
KESLER “Holy shit, we’re one game away.” And then I think it hurts you because you’ve got to find out who’s coming to Boston. You’ve got to make all those arrangements, and you go from thinking about hockey and only hockey, to having everybody take care of tickets and spending time with their family. We have all these distractions. I think that bled into Game 6.
GILMAN When we went to Boston for Game 6, we didn’t have the proper focus. The parade route was getting planned and which network was going to have it. We brought the players’ families in a day before the game. We were fighting with the league. We were fighting with the Bruins. Things fell apart on us at the absolute worst time.
Boston scored four goals in the first 4:14 of the game. The final was 5–2. We were going to Game 7.
BROWN Edler broke two different fingers in two consecutive shifts. The same hand.
LUONGO It was weird because before the game, I had this feeling in my stomach. I thought we were going to win. Usually when I have that good feeling in my stomach, I end up playing a great game and we win. For some reason, that night, it was one of the rare times for me where you feel like you’re going to play great and you don’t.
HENRIK We never gave ourselves the chance to win on the road. That’s the one thing you regret. We never put pressure on them in their rink.
BIEKSA When we went to Boston, we got killed… All their defencemen were big and strong and must have had some sort of a mandate, because they were really hard on our forwards. Cross-checking, arm slash, every time they could create a scrum after the whistle, they would, and we just didn’t have a team that matched up to that. We got the best power play in the playoffs and we’ll get them that way. Some people and some media mistook that for a lack of toughness, but actually, we said as a team, we’re going to take punches in the face. We’re going to go to the front of the net like we always do. We’re not going to swing back and we’re going to take power plays and we’re going to win the game that way. [But] all of a sudden [we’re] not calling any penalties from the scrum. Watch how many we’re on the wrong end of, where we’re just getting manhandled, expecting to get a power play, to win the game that way. I regret some of the things that I didn’t do. I could have stood up and fought one of their big guys in Boston just to set the tone that we’re not going to be pushed around.
HENRIK That says a lot about our teammates. But we never wanted to be defended. We thought that if we got a power-play goal, things can turn around. I’ve never liked to be defended and I look at Elias Pettersson now here. Because he’s the best player, he’s going to get abused a lot of nights, but you’ve got to be able to take it on. I know how our team has felt. But the only thing we didn’t do a good enough job of is, we’re supposed to score on our power play. If we could have done a better job, we could’ve won the series for sure.
DANIEL If those games are tight, Boston would’ve played a totally different game. I mean, it wasn’t only us. They did it to everyone. They didn’t do much in our rink, because the games were tight.
In his first shift of Game 6, Mason Raymond chased a puck in the Boston zone. Johnny Boychuk took him into the boards, rear-first.
RAYMOND That whole day, you’re planning to win a Stanley Cup. And I broke my back 20 seconds into the game. So for me, my memories are: laying in that room, hearing that horn go off four times in the first period before I took the ambulance to the hospital. I didn’t know the diagnosis even by the end of the game — I just knew we’d lost and [I was] devastated. I fought all year with these guys and can’t be a part of it, but we still have an opportunity to win. I didn’t fly back with the team. I spent a couple of days in Boston. I got back to Vancouver three hours before Game 7. I hadn’t seen any of the guys, and I was nervous. I’m in extreme pain, I just broke my back — all these things. But anyway, I remember going to the rink and then … it’s just pain, to be honest. I went out and waved to the crowd in the first period, but I couldn’t watch a lot of the game.
As the Canucks collected themselves for Game 7, they saw it slipping away. They were weakening as the Bruins were getting stronger.
STAN SMYL (Member of the organization since 1978) The travel, I think, caught up to us, and there’s nothing you could do about it. That’s just the way it is.
TAMBELLINI We start getting depleted where they’re healthier, they’re moving people in and out of the lineup, and we’re just trying to survive. It hadn’t happened to us the whole season, that feeling of, “Well, we’re kind of going off the rails.” Now we look at our lineup and it doesn’t look the same as it did Round 1 against Chicago.
VIGNEAULT We had to call up Nolan Baumgartner. He was on holidays. He was the next guy in line on defence if we had another injury.
GILLIS I knew we were going to face a really uphill battle, that Roberto had to win that game for us. It wasn’t through lack of effort on his part, but we had to get lucky. Our lineup was decimated. I had a [bad] sense that I didn’t have against Chicago. It was the first time that entire year I just felt we didn’t have enough anymore.
KESLER I still think to this day, if we stayed healthy, we walk away with the Cup easily. All of those injuries, any other team that happens to, they get swept. We took it to seven still.
TAMBELLINI Kesler was an absolute horse, so good from start to finish. What he played through in the Final, watching the table of syringes as they tried to shoot him up with no hip flexor — then go out and play the way he did. I’ve never seen a guy battle through more physical adversity and play so well.
MELANSON The way Boston plays in a seven-game series, they’re like what St. Louis did last year. To their credit, they wore us down. Chara was beating the shit out of everybody in front of the net. We always felt we would find a way. It wasn’t the effort. We were just a warrior that was beat up. Seeing some of these series last year that had two days between games — that would’ve been a huge advantage.
Although Luongo says he doesn’t remember it, one player told a story about the night before Game 7. The Canucks were staying at a hotel the night before home games. According to this player, several were discussing “the need to find some good omens.” Walking downtown, they came across a church. Why not say a prayer?
“We go to open the door and it’s locked,” he continued. “So we knock on the door, and a member of the congregation comes out. We ask if there is any way we can come in and say one prayer. They tell us the church is closed to the public. We asked if Roberto could go in. ‘Can we just let Roberto go and say one prayer?’ Because he’s the most important guy on the roster. Again, it’s, ‘Oh, no, sorry. No one’s allowed in.’ We almost got to saying, ‘Do you know who this guy is?’ They didn’t let us in.”
The Canucks felt a similar lack of good omens in the opening minutes of Game 7. Tim Thomas continued his brilliant play in the series by making terrific saves off both Sedins. On Daniel’s backhand chance, Boston’s goalie actually looked behind him. Once again, the eventual Conn Smythe Trophy winner was impenetrable. Bergeron opened the scoring at 14:37 of the first.
TORRES Tim Thomas. The f—ing guy was like a magnet. Pucks would not go in, they were sticking to him. There was no rebounds. We’re like, “This is unbelievable. You can’t score on this guy.” He was so good.
BROWN Tim Thomas, Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand were fantastic. They won the war of attrition.
KESLER They scored the first goal and it was all downhill from there. I remember the last four, five minutes, just looking up at the clock, like, “It’s over.” A lot of tears, a lot of heads down.
TAMBELLINI We could feel what it was going to be like to win the Cup every day that season. Until the day we lost it at home.
Boston won Game 7 4–0, claiming the sixth Stanley Cup in franchise history.
CARLING I remember going into the dressing room as soon after the game as I could, and I saw a level of emotion by certain players that I’d never seen before. Guys are just devastated.
KESLER I think everybody started drinking right away to numb the pain. We turned on the TV and saw the shit happening [riots had started near the rink], then we’re locked in for God knows how long. Going up to see my family and my wife’s family apologizing to them because I felt I failed them and I took it personally. It was hard to grasp that it was over — I didn’t get the job done and we didn’t get the job done. One of these days, I hope to get over it, but when I talk about it, it still brings up really dark days in my life.
Word is the room was not opened until one particularly despondent player could be taken away from prying eyes.
BALLARD I remember Hank and Danny, and the looks on their faces. I didn’t play Game 7. Just looking at the guys that, you know, had separated shoulders, broken hands, broken… whatever body part, watching what they had gone through and seeing the disappointment. It’s hard because I wasn’t able to help.
WILLIAMS It’s still heartbreaking to me. I don’t know if it’ll be anything that I ever get over. Alain took it the hardest for sure.
VIGNEAULT There was so much disappointment. I think Francesco [Aquilini] was there. My recollection is he was pretty emotional, too. I don’t think I stayed in the room very long.
Aquilini stayed when media entered. He let reporters know how he felt about their coverage as the Boston celebrations continued within earshot.
HAMHUIS You could hear the announcement for the Bruins to come get the Cup, and you just … you’re so close to it and it’s gut-wrenching. We sat there for quite a while. We had the captain’s room at Rogers Arena set up for all the families and everything. That was going to be the post-game party. Instead it became a post-game waiting room for the riots to clear.
BURNSTEIN I’m almost in shock. It’s bad and sad for everybody. My medical room is right across from Boston’s dressing room. You can hear them cheering and hollering and having a great time. You’re in the hallway next to it and it’s the complete opposite emotion. When you get to the very end and it doesn’t work, it’s almost like you’re left standing and saying, “Okay, what’s next?”
BOWNESS I keep a miniature Stanley Cup in my office. And I have one at our lake house. I look at it and the first thing I think is how close we came. But I keep it there as extra motivation. I see it every day, and it keeps you going.
GILMAN There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about it. I received a miniature Presidents’ Trophy and a miniature Clarence Campbell Trophy. I had them on my mantlepiece for a year or so, and eventually had to take them down.
BIEKSA I remember sitting in the arena until one in the morning with both my kids sleeping. Holding them, you’re super emotional and you’re upset because you came so far, but you didn’t win. Woke up the next day and kids had to go to school, so I took them to try to get back into the rhythm of life. Got a call as soon as I dropped them off from my agent, saying he was in town and Gillis wanted to meet me right away. This is 10:00 a.m. the day after Game 7. So I go meet them and Gillis is telling me that I’m a big part of the team, he wants to re-sign me long-term because I’m going to be a free agent July 1. Basically, we agreed to the terms of the contract right there and signed it later that day. I knew at least I was going to have five more years with this group. That was a nice way to ease the pain.
Not surprisingly, players have struggled to watch the tape of Game 7.
BIEKSA [I haven’t watched] the whole game, but the condensed version where it’s 14 or 15 minutes long. How else do you learn? Or how else do you get closure in your head? It’s just such a bad feeling. Like we lost for nothing. I actually had the puck on my stick when the buzzer went, and I wish I would’ve flipped it into the stands. But there’s so many things you learn from watching it over. [On Brad Marchand’s 2–0 goal] I look at myself, right? I lose the puck in my skates for a second, [then] he takes it and wraps it. That’s on me. I have to get a body on him.
KESLER I just watched the highlights. My wife said, “What are you doing? You’re just going to be mad the rest of the night.” And I’m like, “Yeah, you’re right.” I turned it off.
SCHNEIDER Being from Boston, I had friends and family members rooting against us. I was like, “What?” I had to live in it for the next two months at home. One of my wife’s closest friends got married right away, and her new husband, who I didn’t know well at the time, was a huge Bruins fan. They’re being introduced at the wedding, and they’re coming in, and this guy comes up and brings me a Bruins banner at the table. I mean, it was a joke and it was his wedding, but, I was like, “Uh, this is … this is going to be my summer.”
Were the Canucks ever the same?
A couple of players thought it was a silly question. They won the Presidents’ Trophy again in 2011–12 before Daniel Sedin’s late-March injury cost them dearly. He missed the first three games of the opening series against Los Angeles. By then, the eventual Stanley Cup champion Kings were one win from victory. They closed it out in five.
Others, however, admitted life was different.
HAMHUIS We had a very similar roster and were confident. But any time you have a year like [2010–11], you’re always comparing — looking back at what happened and “How are we doing compared to that?” It was fueled by media expectations. We were expected to win every game 4–0. If you would have asked any guy on the team, “Hey, what place do you think we’re in right now?” Every guy would have said, “Ah, 10, 11, 12 in the West.” We were first or second. We had about 10 games to go and were a couple of points out of first overall. I said to a few guys, “Boys, we need to win this. We will be the worst team in the history of hockey to win it.” I still say that to this day: We are the worst team ever to win the Presidents’ Trophy. It was crazy. We felt we were a ninth-place team with the expectations that year.
SCHNEIDER I think the whole thing took a little bit out of us. After the rematch in January, we never played as well as we thought we could. [Vancouver won 4–3 at Boston in a nasty affair. Marchand was suspended five games for low-bridging Salo.] I’ll give us credit. We won the Presidents Trophy, but it wasn’t the same.
BIEKSA As soon as the playoffs started, we were like, “Okay, if we don’t get to the Cup Final again, it’s a bust.” We didn’t do all those little things that we had to do to get back. I think we just expected to steamroll our way back.
KESLER That core group of guys were together for so long, it got stale.
Alex Edler and Chris Tanev are the only 2010–11 Canucks still on the roster. Hamhuis and Schneider are the others still playing.
If there’s one thing that covering sports has taught me, it’s how hard it is to win. When you’re 20 and naive, you see the inability to win as total failure. When you’re 50 and experienced, you recognize it’s just not possible for everyone to win. Only a minority do — not that this eases disappointment or pain.
DANIEL We enjoyed being around each other every day. So many great memories. It didn’t end the way we wanted it to. That’s the tough part.
CARLING That was such a spectacular year. The 40th anniversary. The Ring of Honour was unveiled. Markus Naslund got his jersey retired. So spectacular until the last game. And Manny’s injury. At the same time, we’re so happy he’s able to live in a normal life. He’s on the ice every day conducting himself at a high level.
BURNSTEIN I’m proud of all those guys. When I saw them [at the Sedins’ jersey retirement ceremony], it gives you that sense of what a special group, special time. But there’s a little bit of that hole, to be honest. When you’re driving home and you’re thinking, “We just didn’t finish it off.” [But] they took the journey together and they should be proud of that.
GILMAN There was such cohesion between the players, between the management and the coaches. It was as harmonious a group as I’ve ever been associated with. There was confidence, there was swagger, there was fun. It was magical what we had. When I see all these players, there’s a mutual understanding we had something so incredibly special. The only thing is … when I watched the twins get their numbers retired, you saw every trophy on the ice except one. And I feel that it should have been there.
The breakup of that team was difficult. There were performance declines, forced trades, firings and hurt feelings. For fans, media, players, coaches and executives, it was hard to make peace with how everything unfolded.
There’s one exception: Burrows.
BURROWS I know the fan base in Vancouver is really passionate. They want to win bad. They feel a little bit excluded from the rest of Canada — being on the west coast, having games late at night. But I didn’t care if people liked us away from Vancouver. I know our fan base was really proud of our team, the way we played and competed. Those years were the best. Those highs and lows, the grinding and competing, those big games in those big cities. A lot of fun.
That’s the way it should be. Boston deserved its Stanley Cup, but the Canucks and their fans should be proud of that team and its legacy. If the interviews for this piece taught me anything, it’s that this was an impressive group.
As part of the Canucks’ 50th-anniversary season, the organization added Burrows to the Ring of Honour in addition to retiring the Sedins’ jerseys. Both were raw, powerful, hilarious and emotional ceremonies. The ovations were ear-bursters. Kesler admitted how nervous he was, and how much it meant to be warmly welcomed.
KESLER I can look back now and think about the two months — how much joy we brought to the city. How fun that was. We had some really good times, and I’m happy the fanbase looks at it like that, too.
LUONGO You’re so emotionally invested that you can’t see clearly. Once you remove yourself from that situation and time passes, I think you start to realize, “Wow, that was special. Wow, that group was unbelievable.” I think that’s what’s happening. My relationship, especially with the fans, has been great for many years now. Once everything blew over, I started seeing things in a bit of a different way. My Twitter helped, but I was especially happy to see Kes and the fans were able to reconcile because he was a huge part of that team.
SCHNEIDER Now it’s like, “Oh, these guys are actually really funny guys.” That’s what we knew all along in the room.
HENRIK I watched [our ceremony] again afterwards and it was almost like there was an all-star team stepping on the ice. The crowd was so loud when they were announced. That was the best part of our night. We knew after 2010–11 and then ’11–12, guys were starting to leave because they got better offers somewhere else. You knew it wasn’t going to be the same. But it’s the best team I’ve been on by far and it was a lot of fun.
RAYMOND One thing that was pretty cool after Sedin night, we all sat down — Brian Burke, Marc Crawford, Markus Naslund, Mattias Ohlund, Alex Edler. We’re sitting there until, like, 2:00 a.m. having drinks and listening to those guys go back and forth. And Bieksa is not afraid to run his mouth on people. I could have stayed up all night that night. All night.
CRAWFORD I do believe we were villainized unnecessarily. We had some real hard-edge players that help you win games. We had that air about us of arrogance over competitiveness. But those types of internally driven highly competitive people help you win hockey games. Sometimes it’s not nice the way that you win, and you piss people off. I always likened us to the Detroit Pistons in the late-1980s with Bill Laimbeer. Because everybody loved the Celtics and Lakers, [but the Pistons] were just brash and painted with that brush by the NBA media. I thought we [were] as well in Vancouver. Mike not being in the so-called old-boys club. So all of those things together pointed towards us being sort of different, and different gets picked on.
HAMHUIS The further you step away from it, the more special you see that it is. That Game 7 against Chicago that may go down as the best game in the 50 years of the franchise. It’s got to be one of the best teams ever not to win.
BIEKSA It was just such a great time in our lives. We were starting to have our kids and our families. We were together for a while before success, and [then] we’re on top of the world. I don’t think it’s something we took for granted. You spent a lot of time together and made some really close friendships for life.
BALLARD That was the most fun professional hockey experience I’ve had and, as you know, for me personally, it wasn’t an ideal situation. There’s so many good people there and you could just tell from Day 1, it was a special group.
HIGGINS That whole spring was the most fun I ever had playing hockey.
EHRHOFF The people there, we laughed for two years.
VIGNEAULT I consider myself so lucky. I spent seven terrific years with that group. Obviously, you’re in this to win the ultimate prize, but as a coach, what you want to do is get the best from your group. They always gave me their best.
GILLIS I can’t tell you how proud I am of those guys and their willingness to believe in us as a management group. They didn’t have to — they all had choices. It was a very special time to be part of the Vancouver Canucks.
CARLING I had pride for the Canucks, where I worked. But my true passion is the Kansas City Chiefs, since I was 14. I would be the first to admit I have cared way too much about this football team. They lost every important game in my history. This year, they won the Super Bowl and I was so happy. I think about it every single day. Every. Single. Day. About six days after the Super Bowl, [Canucks vice-president of communications] Chris Brumwell reaches out. He goes, “Have you come down from your high yet?” I said, “No, and I’m not sure when I’m going to.” In fact, I’d been thinking a lot about the 2010–11 team in kind of a melancholy way. Because what I realized is there are three layers where you can interact with a team.
There’s the players themselves. They’re the ones that deserve all the credit. They’re the ones that make the sacrifice. They’re the ones with the world-class talent that makes it possible. Then you’ve got your staff — coaching, management and support staff. It could be 150 people. The people that sell tickets and all that, just pour everything they’ve got into it, right? They work 70 hours a week. And you’ve got the fans. Without the fans, there’s no games, there’s no money, there’s no TV, there’s no nothing. But as emotionally invested in the Chiefs as I am, I know how much harder I worked as an employee of the Canucks for 20 years.
What I realized, having never experienced it before … it’s forever. If I live to be 100, I can say, “Well, I remember 55 years ago the Chiefs won the Super Bowl.” I was thinking in a sad way, “It’s hard to win, and when you have the opportunity, you don’t want it to pass you by because it’s forever.” I’m only experiencing it as a fan, but I’ve been a fan for 31 years and I’ve been all-in and it’s such an awesome feeling. And I remember, I was sad for a couple of days. I talked to Trevor Linden about a week or two after that and he was asking me, “Tell me about it — tell me where you were when you watched the game.” And I said, “If it’s okay, I want to tell you this story.” I said, “I just wished you’d won in 1994. I didn’t know you, I was living in Victoria. I don’t care.” And all the guys we just talked about — the brothers and Louie and Alain in 2011, I just wish you’d won. Because it’s forever. They can’t take it away. And it changes conversations.
The ’94 team is beloved here, as you know. Anybody 40-plus, they love that team. They love Cliff [Ronning], they love Pavel [Bure], they love Kirk [MacLean] and they love Trevor. The 2011 team, [it was like] nothing was ever good enough. I remember thinking for a long time, “This team will never be as beloved as the 1994 team.”
But I was at the Sedin night as well, and thinking, “It’s starting to feel different.”
The oral history of the best team in Vancouver Canucks history, Part I
Building the best team in club history took time, hard choices and a little luck. This is the story of how it all came together, in the words of the people who were there.